Paul Newman's Newest Endeavor

Legendary actor's new restaurant may mean an end to his acting career.

ByABC News
September 28, 2008, 12:40 PM

May 24, 2007 — -- He starred as the wry, handsome train robber in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." He played an alcoholic lawyer in "The Verdict" and our hearts reached out to him. His familiar voice made us smile in "Cars."

But now, the legendary actor Paul Newman has joined forces with uber-chef Michel Nischan to create Dressing Room: A Homegrown Restaurant -- an establishment in Westport, Conn., that caters to those with a taste for organic food.

And if you travel to Millstone farm a few miles away in Wilton, Conn., you'll find the garden that provides much of the produce served at the restaurant.

Annie Farrell is what you would call a "farmer's farmer," the person you hire if you want to turn your farm organic. Farrell took "Nightline" on a tour of the Millstone farm, and Newman tagged along.

It is clear that organic farming is part art, part science. One plant is used to help another grow. The radishes are a case in point.

"So, those radishes and turnips break the ground they break through that cementy ground and then the carrots follow," said Farrell. "Then I'll renovate, refertilize and reseed this bed with something else."

"Do you think if we put some politicians in there they would sweeten?" Newman quipped. "Let them freeze for awhile and then they'd come up in the spring."

In fact, there is a lot of politics in the food business. After conflict in the Wilton community regarding developers who wanted to buy the Millstone farm, Betsy Fink and her husband Jesse purchased it to save it from development.

Newman and Nischan have put their own food politics right on their restaurant's sign. Dressing Room proudly boasts that the establishment is "A Homegrown Restaurant."

One of the principal ingredients served here is a principle of the restaurant itself -- organic food grown close to home is best. Best for the people who eat it, and best for their communities.

In fact, the restaurant sponsors a twice-weekly local farmer's market in the parking lot -- testimony to their belief that local food can build communities.

Newman relishes his time at the market.

"[There] is that real sense of community that is really disappearing in suburban towns," he said.

Dressing Room is snuggled next to the Westport Country Playhouse, where for the past 70 years great plays and great actors have traveled to perform, including Newman himself.

"Every great American actor and actress of the '40s, '50s and '60s played in that theater," he said.

His wife, Joanne Woodward, was until recently the theater's artistic director, and Newman got the idea that a new restaurant could help subsidize the theatre.

Newman has used the idea of food to underwrite good causes before. Newman's Own, his line of food products, has been fabulously successful over the past 25 years.

He put his face on the front of the bottles and gives all of the profits after taxes back to charity. And those profits are considerable -- Newman has raised over $250 million.

He also has started 10 Hole in the Wall camps, where kids who are battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases can come and play.

"I think we saw 14,000 kids last year," said Newman.

Between his many charitable efforts and now the restaurant, Newman has his plate full in many ways. Fellow actor and friend Robert Redford has said that Newman has the "attention span of a bolt of lightning."

Newman laughed off that description.

"Actually, I think that I'm the exact opposite of that. I have an extraordinary attention span. I manage to juggle two or three different ideas at the same time, and that's probably, if I have a gift, that's probably the best gift that's given me."

Newman confesses he came to organic food slowly, persuaded by his daughter Nell, who now runs Newman's Own Organics.

"She was way ahead of the curve," he said. "It wasn't something I thought I had to pay attention to, but I certainly do now."

Newman's daughter also introduced him to his chef, Michel Nischan. They hit it off right away.